Cricket: No cause to make three-course meal of selection: Only Malcolm's Trent Bridge performance offers Illingworth and his panel any reason to change a winning side for the second Test

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND'S selectors convene again this evening, although it is mildly surprising that the Test and County Cricket Board has not cancelled it on the grounds of - like Reverends in the dressing-room - an unnecessary drain on expenses. On the evidence of the first Test, the only skill involved in this meeting will be if they manage to come up with an XI capable of losing.

The chairman, Raymond Illingworth, would not be the sort to go around lighting fat cigars with pounds 5 notes on the strength of whitewashing Australia, never mind a single Test against New Zealand, and with no serious arguments in prospect this evening, might decide to save his employers a few bob more by replacing the traditional restaurant dinner with a plate of cheese and pickle sandwiches and a few cans of sponsored Tetleys.

He has already shown a degree of reluctance to use his mobile phone on grounds of cost, although it might be appropriate to point out that the Reverend Wingfield-Digby's removal from the payroll was merely Illingworth's response to being asked by the Board's chief executive whether he shared his predecessor's enthusiasm for spiritual guidance in the dressing room. 'Not really, no,' was an answer entirely consistent with Illingworth's pragmatic nature, and after Ted Dexter's five-year reverie, represents a refreshing return to brass tacks.

If anything at all this evening drags on into a second plate of sandwiches, it will be whether or not to retain Devon Malcolm after his curious performance at Trent Bridge, where he resembled a medium pace line-and-length merchant. However, quite apart from the fact that the old Malcolm is clearly back with a vengeance (1 for 56 from seven overs with the new ball yesterday) even this might not generate too much passion, for the simple reason that there is hardly a vast list of alternatives.

Darren Gough, Chris Lewis, Andrew Caddick and Mark Ilott are all injured, and two possible candidates - Leicestershire's Alan Mullally and David Millns - probably ruled themselves out with ordinary performances at Derby on Thursday. Both were clattered around by Phillip DeFreitas, who for the first time in many years has become an automatic choice for a Test match following his previous one.

Paul Taylor, the Northamptonshire left-arm seamer, has more or less disappeared since his low-profile tour of India two winters ago, and Illingworth is thought to be keener on Kent's English-born Australian, Duncan Spencer. Spencer, though, has proved little other than the fact that he can bowl extremely briskly in short spells.

As for the batting, the selectors will not be inclined towards the view that Graham Gooch is holding back younger blood while he is knocking off double centuries. Even though Gooch would acknowledge the poverty of the bowling he faced at Trent Bridge, England's prime objective is to build a winning, confident side for the sterner challenges of South Africa and Australia and, on that basis, Gooch remains a vital component.

Graeme Hick, dropped in all three of his home series since qualifying in 1991, is under threat once again, although it is unlikely that he will not get at least one more opportunity at Lord's next week. If he fails there, however, he will not survive the claims of John Crawley and Graham Thorpe. Robin Smith's form is not what it was, although whether or not claims that his business interests have proved to be a distraction are correct, it is part and parcel of the modern game.

Smith's basic wage at Hampshire would be something like pounds 25,000 and, while his overall earnings are into six figures, he knows that this is dependent on remaining high profile. Gooch has been wandering around with a briefcase and mobile phone at Worcester over the past few days, and no one would claim that he is not focused on batting for England.

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